Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell believes the Currie Cup still holds an important place in South African rugby, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Mitchell made his return to SA rugby earlier this year when he was appointed as the Bulls’ new executive of rugby, and he subsequently took over as coach for the Currie Cup.
Mitchell’s return to the domestic coaching scene comes six years after coaching the Golden Lions to the 2011 Currie Cup title. Since then though, the competition has come under plenty of scrutiny and undergone considerable change.
With the continued expansion of Super Rugby, and certain restrictions now applied which national players are available for domestic duty, many observers felt that the Currie Cup has lost much of its prestige, while crowd attendances have left a lot to be desired.
In many respects the Currie Cup has now become a development tournament of sorts as young players receive an opportunity to gain exposure at senior level ahead of Super Rugby, with the Lions and Blues Bulls particularly having blooded a host of U21 players this season.
Following the conclusion of the Rugby Championship, the Currie Cup has recently come back into at least some prominence at the business end of the competition, while the Sharks and Western Province will clash in what has been described as the ‘dream final’ this Saturday.
Although there is ongoing talk that the Currie Cup is set to undergo further restructuring in the future, Mitchell insisted that the enduring value of the competition should not be underestimated.
‘I still think it’s a great tournament, particularly when you see the spirit with which everyone has been playing. The game has evolved since I was last involved [in coaching in the Currie Cup]. Defensively most sides aren’t quite at their best because there are a lot of youngsters still gaining an understanding of that area of the game, but I still think the spirit of the Currie Cup is fantastic.
‘I also believe it’s important because it should feed [players into] Super Rugby,’ Mitchell added. ‘We’ve also got to recognise that we’re in a country where our professional players have a lot of [career] options to consider, so it’s good to bring fresh athletes into action, and a lot will be presented with opportunities at a higher level in due time.’
Despite the Bulls’ semi-final defeat, Mitchell said he certainly felt that the correct building blocks had been put in place ahead of next year’s Super Rugby season.
‘I guess people will judge what they see as success, but for us‚ it will be up to us to make our own judgement on what is a successful season as we’ve been through an enormous amount of change.
‘We’ve got the international and the Japan-based players to come back along with the injured players who didn’t even feature in this competition. We’ve unearthed 11 U21 players and we’ve built a culture based on hard work rather than entitlement. If there’s one thing these players have learned‚ it’s the value of hard work.
‘We’re on the right path, and you can see that by the demeanour of the players. They’re enjoying playing for each other.’
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images